I originally posted this article on April 30, 2016.
As Christians, of course we take great joy in the fact that Jesus shed His precious blood to pay the price for our sins. Indeed, the knowledge that He made that sacrifice fills us with awe, as we wonder why He would do such a outrageously generous thing.
Back in the 1980s, some evangelical churches taught that He redeemed us because He saw something in us worth saving. That explanation certainly boosted people’s self-esteem, but nothing in Scripture substantiated it. On the contrary, Ephesians 2:1-10 plainly tells us that nothing in us in any way merits the grace He has shown by taking our sin on Himself.
So if Christ had nothing to gain from us, why did He die for us? Obviously He loves us, although I don’t understand why He does. But Ephesians 2:7 offers an even fuller understanding of what motivated Him to such an incredible demonstration of love.
So let’s spend a little time looking at verse 7. Even though I’ll do my best to comment on this verse, I hope you’ll take the time to look at the cross-references I’ll provide, as they offer deeper insight into the text. Scripture best interprets itself, so these cross-references will help you grasp the teaching in this verse.
But first let’s go back to the passage itself, shall we?
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. ~~Ephesians 2:1-7 (ESV)
Paul begins verse 7 with the assuring statement that God will, in the ages to come, give a fuller revelation
- of the immeasuarable riches
- of His grace
- in kindness toward us
- in Christ Jesus
Commentators differ on whether the “ages to come” denote succeeding generations of Christians who would understand the Ephesians’ conversions as a demonstration of God’s rich mercy or to the ages that will begin when Christ returns. The former interpretation finds support in 1Timothy 1:16, where Paul claims His own conversion as an example of God’s mercy. Compare Titus 3:4-7, which states that the believers in the church Titus pastored experienced the same mercy as did the Ephesians. Yet 1 Peter 1:3-13 implies that God will display His mercy and grace at the time that Christ reveals Himself universally. I tend to favor the latter understanding because Christ’s return is part of the Gospel.
God’s purpose in showering believers with grace and mercy benefits us, but ultimately it refers back to His character. Vincent’s Word Studies says that the grammar of the Greek phrase translated here as “He might show” implies that God does all this for His glory first, and then for our benefit. The primary emphasis on His glory, over and above our blessing, must not be ignored!
The Lord showed similar mercy to Israel, not because they deserved it (they certainly didn’t!), but for the sake of His reputation (Ezekiel 36:21-23, Deuteronomy 7:7-8, Psalm 106:8, Psalm 115:1-2, Ezekiel 20:41). God bestows His mercy on us, just as He did on Israel, out of concern for His reputation among unbelieving nations. For this reason, as well as because of the way verse 7 flows from preceding verses, I tend toward the opinion that these “immeasurable riches” will coincide with Christ’s return when all will see Him (Matthew 24:30).
At the Lord’s return, He will at last become the focal point of all creation. While we will enjoy the privilege of spending eternity in His glorious presence, all the attention will center exclusively on Him. Our only worth will come from His inexplicable love for us. And even that love, precisely because it refers back to His kindness, manifests His glory. Truly, when He died for us, He did it for Himself.